Nicole: Better Than a Sister at Saving Money
Nicole Brooks, a senior from Hebron, CT majoring in Accounting at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, is a busy young lady. She takes classes at Eastern on Tuesdays. On Fridays and Sundays for the past two years, she has worked at Loco Perro, a Mexican restaurant in East Hampton. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, she is engaged in an internship with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program supported by several organizations including United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut (UWCNCT), The Village for Families & Children and Community Accounting Aid and Services (CAAS). VITA provides tax assistance to low-income individuals and families free of charge. With classes, work and volunteer activities, Nicole still manages to carry a 3.85 GPA.
She derives tremendous joy from her time with the VITA program, where she interacts with the customers, greeting them when they come in for their appointment; handing out the in-take forms; and making sure they fill out everything. “Then I prepare the individual's taxes, asking them relevant questions along the way to clarify any uncertainties. I also review taxes prepared by my peers when they are finished with their return to make sure everything is filled in correctly.”
Nicole learned about the VITA program through Maura Cook, community engagement Senior Manager at United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut who spoke about it during a visit to an Accounting Society meeting. Nicole had already intended to volunteer for the program, but during an email exchange with Maura, she learned about training dates for IRS certification and other details of the program. She also found out that she could serve as an intern with VITA and receive course credit. She sent in her resume, and was immediately accepted as an intern.
“Other organizations often charge a hefty fee for their services that some taxpayers may not be able to afford,” said Nicole. “By asking a few questions and entering the right figures into the tax software, I can put people at ease, and in most cases, get them some money back. I like being able to help people and put a smile on their faces. I really enjoy being able to assist people financially, especially in today's economy.”
She recalled her most favorable moment, when she sat to help a very nervous customer who was anxious after the customer’s sister had prepared her taxes. The sister had concluded that the customer owed the IRS more than $1,500. “While I was entering in numbers and asking her questions, she kept telling me how upset she was, and that she didn't have that kind of money. Lo and behold, when I finished preparing her taxes, she actually was receiving a rather large refund just under $500! I was so happy that I was able to help her and ease some of her worry.”
Nicole says her time and experience as a VITA allows her to not only give back to the community, helping those in need of tax assistance, but helps her academically as well. She said it makes her resume more vibrant and also helps her learning and overall education at Eastern.
“I am very grateful to United Way and VITA for offering this volunteer program at Eastern. This volunteer experience really sets me apart from others when I begin looking for other internships and jobs upon graduation because I have first-hand experience with preparing taxes, and was certified by the IRS after completing the training program for VITA, something most job applicants won't have.”
Nicole credits her upbringing with teaching her the value of helping others by volunteering. “My parents have always emphasized the importance of helping others. They would encourage my sisters and me to donate our old books, toys, clothes, and other items to those in need. I am very grateful to my parents for instilling such good morals in me.” Nicole’s career goal is to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Her volunteer experience with VITA is the perfect “hands-on” training needed for an aspiring accountant
“I am determined to do my absolute best at anything that I am faced with, whether it is school or work. I am extremely proud of all of my achievements and will continue to strive for success in my future.”